AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - A senior Syrian army officer was wounded in a suicide bombing in a central Damascus district on Monday, a monitoring group said, though the military denied the report.
Suicide bombings have become rare in the capital since the army pushed back rebels to the countryside almost two years ago. A blast killed several members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle in the Syrian capital in July 2012.
A resident contacted using Viber said the army had sealed off main streets of the neighborhood. Security forces detained scores of people after the explosion.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a member of the hardline militant group Nusra Front on a motorbike blew himself up next to the car of the head of munitions and supplies in the Syrian army as it passed through Rukn al Din quarter.
“A major general who heads the munitions and supply division of the Syrian army was injured and one of his companions killed and two hurt in the rebel attack,” said Rami Abdulrahman head of the Observatory, which has a network of people on the ground.
Abdulrahman said another bomb was detonated by the militants during clashes with the army.
But a Syrian army source who spoke to Reuters denied a senior figure had been wounded. He said five people had staged the attack, which occurred in the bustling central district of Rukn al Din. All were killed or arrested.
Other than the attackers, the bombing killed one person and injured five, some of whom were in critical condition, he added.
Earlier, a Syrian army source on state television said the suicide bomber blew himself up in Rukn al Din. The neighborhood houses several security compounds, according to residents. It is also home to many Syrian Kurds.
The Observatory said many senior officials live in the area and major branches of Syria’s intelligence apparatus are based there.
The heavily defended heart of government-controlled Damascus city has seen several major bombings over the past four years during a civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people.
In other parts of Syria, the air force stepped up raids on rebel held areas in the northern city of Aleppo and Idlib province.
Aerial bombing on Sunday hit a school in Aleppo’s Saif al Dawlah area and killed seven civilians including four children, according to the Observatory.
Many residents in Aleppo have been forced to eke out an existence underground to escape relentless aerial bombardment of opposition-held areas by government forces, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Monday.
Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said that aerial bombardment have made life “increasingly unbearable for civilians”.
Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman and Laila Bassam in Beirut; Editing by Ralph Boulton